It’s often difficult to put into words what our work involves – what it is we do as music therapists. I’m sure we all have versions of the same story – being asked: ‘Well – what exactly is music therapy?’ and floundering to explain the idiosyncratic, challenging and unique dialogues we enter into with our clients.

This is partly because we regularly connect to the wordless aspects of people – their expressions and communications, sometimes involving powerful outbursts, sometimes as fragile and subtle micro-moments; but also because when we as therapists enter into a relationship with our clients, what is often relayed is the dynamic, raw and perhaps unrevealed aspects of peoples’ lived experiences. Our ability to listen is key to being able to genuinely, reflectively acknowledge and accept these expressions, whilst our active involvement in musical dialogue endorses and contains the inner narrative of that person as it realises a more external form. Our task it seems is to hear, to allow and to respond – sometimes just simply enjoying the twists and turns of the musical worlds created and shared at that moment in time.

I’ve worked at Penwith Acorn Provision Academy (formerly the short stay school) for several years, with students who are given their therapy time and space to express their lived experiences during the school day. I would like to relay a quote written by the head teacher, Gary Owens, who, I think has said what music therapy in this context is with the clarity and understanding of someone else who sees what it can offer to these students:

“I believe that Music Therapy is a vital tool for students who are experiencing great difficulties with their emotional well-being. Many of the students that attend AP Academies have suffered traumatic and disruptive educational and personal lives and have often had an almost nomadic existence. It is vital for these students to experience some stability in their lives and to have an outlet for expressing their concerns and feelings. Music Therapy can be a calming influence amongst the often chaotic world in which they live giving them focus and a safe place to express their feelings and develop confidence through a medium that most students enjoy.”

Gary Owens - Headteacher, Penwith Alternative Provision Academy

Article by Ruth Boulton